How to recruit, develop and motivate trademark talent

A team’s success is rooted in its talent. Daniel Zohny, head of intellectual property at FIFA, provides an insider view on how to recruit and motivate a stellar roster of trademark experts.

Since starting at FIFA in 2013, I have had the opportunity to make various hiring decisions at both counsel and paralegal/assistant level and am fortunate to lead a team of 10 exceptional IP professionals. As a result, I would like to share some thoughts and practical tips from my experience.

Putting a team together

Profile and candidate pool

At the outset of the hiring process it is important to define the profile of the position that you are filling in terms of:

  • education and experience;
  • soft skills (eg, communication, teamwork, judgement and initiative); and
  • personality, attitude and cultural fit.

Once the job ad has been published, widen the talent pool by spreading the word. An obvious way is to share the opening with your connections on professional networking sites, predominantly LinkedIn. Re-shares will amplify the vacancy and increase the chances of reaching potential candidates who are not actively looking or monitoring job boards. Moreover, if you have peers that you trust, including your external counsel network, see whether there is someone that they can recommend. I have had great experiences with peer recommendations.

Over the years I have also curated a standby list of candidates that I may contact to see what their ‘deal’ is. The list always includes valued former colleagues that were on a temporary assignment or may have left to advance their career elsewhere. Such candidates can create a win-win scenario, since they already know the employer, they need less time to acclimate and they will normally have honed their skills in the meantime.


Even though we have a great HR team, when deciding which candidates I would like to have a conversation with and to ensure that a good candidate is not inadvertently overlooked, I tend to look at all applications submitted. Unless the IP/trademark function is a core competency of your recruiting team, there are nuances that only trademark professionals will pick up, especially if you are hiring for a very specific skill set.

While going through a couple of hundred CVs may seem daunting, with a clear understanding of what you are looking for, you will be surprised how quickly you can spot the candidates that fulfil your criteria. Also, read motivation letters. They can be testament to a true desire to work on your team, which is a valuable insight and initial distinguishing aspect.


Interviews provide the chance for a conversation that helps both sides to figure out whether there could be a fit. After introductions it can help to provide the candidate with a good understanding of the team set-up and the day-to-day nature of the job, rather than immediately confronting them with a barrage of questions. Candidates are often nervous and easing them in can create a pleasant atmosphere and improve the overall flow of the conversation. That being said, an interview is the best opportunity to determine whether a prospect is ‘the one’. If I do not know them or they do not come recommended by someone that I trust, I will typically engage in slightly more competency-based questioning, including publicly available information about FIFA’s intellectual property, to gauge whether they have done their research. The better prepared they are, including having their own questions for you, the stronger their interest in the position tends to be.

Since it is an essential quality for an in-house lawyer to be quick on their feet and able to provide practical, business-oriented and, if necessary, creative advice on the spot, it can be insightful to present a candidate with a short hypothetical from your day-to-day practice. They do not have to get it right necessarily, but seeing their thought process in action can help to determine whether they possess good judgement – another crucial attribute for any (in-house) trademark professional. As the trademark function is a service department to various non-legal internal stakeholders, you will want to find someone who can communicate well and provide practical, commercially focused advice in non-legal speech, while building strong relationships with their counterparts. When interviewing, consider how collaborative a candidate seems, whether they will demonstrate good judgement in difficult situations and, if necessary and appropriate, make decisions independently.

Of course, setting all the above aside, the prospective new hire has to fit in with the team. While it may seem appealing to compile a homogenous team with little friction, diversity is essential to success. Diverse cultural backgrounds foster different, often inspiring, views that lead to innovative ideas and solutions. Especially after some years of running a smooth operation, it can be beneficial to shake things up to avoid complacency. Hiring the non-obvious candidate can provide new impulses and ideas.

To establish whether someone will gel with the team, include crucial team members directly in the interviewing process and ensure that the whole team – if possible – gets a chance to meet the potential new colleague. For this, I prefer an informal session over coffee, without the hiring manager present. Feedback from the team is extremely valuable. It may confirm your impression or provide another perspective that can help in the decision-making process.


In addition to a list of pros and cons compiled from the assessment and interviewing process, as well as feedback from the people involved (eg, HR, the team and any line managers), references are a powerful tool for vetting candidates, especially if there are two or more seemingly equivalent options. Use the references provided and (if appropriate) obtain additional ones from your network to get a better picture about not only a candidate’s capabilities but, even more importantly, their personality and attitude. It is vital that the new colleague fits in with the team. An honest reference from a former manager or colleague may tip the scales, particularly when objective parameters have not led to a clear decision.

If, after all the information and impressions that you have collected during the hiring process, there is no clear front runner and you are torn between candidates, it may be time to trust your gut. You cannot look into the future and make a hiring decision devoid of risk. Therefore, rely on your judgement.

As a final note on recruitment, offer any candidates that made it to the last round but were not chosen the opportunity for a debrief, with feedback on why you did not decide in their favour. Such conversations can be valuable to their future hiring processes and are a matter of respect, considering the time and effort that they have invested in applying with you. Also, if I know of other openings from colleagues for which a candidate might be suitable, I am more than happy to suggest them directly.

Keeping the team together


The first day of work in a new environment, with a new team and manager, can be intimidating. The onboarding process should go as smoothly as possible, with necessary introductions and training sessions arranged, and the workplace ready and set up with access to the relevant software and other tools that the team uses on a daily basis. Aside from these more technical aspects (which, if neglected, can leave a bad impression with newcomers), the most important factor of welcoming a new team member is to build a good rapport and relationship with the team.

Even when things are busy, it is crucial to set aside ample time to get to know your new colleague – including on a personal level – in order to build trust and to be available to provide any assistance from the team and/or manager that they might need to settle in comfortably. To that end, be lenient and let them find their footing. Even highly experienced professionals may need time to adjust to how things are done in their new setting.


Whether new employees or seasoned colleagues, it is generally important that managers are accessible and have an open door for all questions and issues that the team might face. When developing a team, trust is a crucial factor. If your colleagues feel that you have their back, chances are they will have yours, too.

Part of showing your trust is to give the team responsibility, ownership of projects and reasonable freedom of independent decision making. Also provide them with internal and external visibility to ensure that the team and/or team members get credit for their work.

It goes without saying that you should offer your team members career development opportunities in line with their position and interests. Depending on budget, this can be via participation in industry conferences (now more accessible since many have moved online and are likely to continue to be offered in hybrid models), seminars and courses – whether on IP subjects or on other skills that are helpful in the workplace. While you can suggest opportunities that you believe would be beneficial to team members, generally leave it up to them to provide suggestions. They tend to know best what benefits them. Also, if you are asked to speak at an industry event that you cannot fit into your schedule, if feasible, offer the opportunity to somebody from the team.

To avoid stagnancy, see to it that your team members are challenged and further develop their skills by mixing things up and assigning diverse tasks that complement their skill sets and interests.


Show team members that you value them through recognition and appreciation. Give credit where credit is due. If the team or an individual does a good job, tell them. It takes two seconds to send an email or instant message that says nothing more than “good job”. It will go a long way.

When you push the team to deliver work on short notice, provide timely feedback or at least acknowledge that you are reviewing the work and will revert in due course. It is demotivating when a person has worked hard to meet a tight deadline provided by management and then does not hear back.

If something does not go according to plan, criticise but be constructive. Analyse the situation with the team and find a way together to avoid similar issues in future – if necessary, by adjusting processes.

Keep the team spirit going and check in not only formally through recurring, work-related team meetings, but also individually to see how everyone is doing. This is particularly important in times where a lot of us work from home and there is no stopping by someone’s desk or chatting in the hallway.


Even if all the above works perfectly, no team stays together forever. If somebody decides to leave and take the next step in their career, do not be angry. You were part of the journey to that next step. Be supportive and happy for them and, if possible, make them part of the succession and handover process to the next new team member.

Final words

Lead by example; practice what you preach, show empathy and be generous.

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